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Why businesses across the country are ‘banning the box’

Earlier this year, the Civil Service joined a growing list of employers to ‘Ban the Box’ in an effort to open up job opportunities for ex-offenders. As one of the country’s largest employers with a workforce of approx 400,000, this decision represents a huge triumph for the millions of people in the UK with a criminal conviction. It also signals an important shift in employers’ attitudes towards ex-offenders and sets an example I hope many more businesses will follow.

Afterall, it may surprise people to learn that 10.5 million people in the UK have a criminal conviction – that’s 1 in 5 of the adult population. The majority of convictions are court fines for minor one-time offences. In fact, only 8% of people end up going to prison. But no matter how minor the offence, the majority of people will find themselves screened out of the hiring process as soon as they tick that little box on the job application form asking about criminal convictions.

The social case for ‘ban the box’

According to the latest statistics, there were over 750,000 job vacancies between August and October - the highest number in the past 15 years. Writing off qualified candidates before they get the chance to demonstrate their skills or suitability for the role doesn’t make much sense, especially at a time when businesses are struggling to recruit.

It’s also damaging for the wider society too. Over 60% of short-term prisoners re-offend within a year of release, at a cost to business, communities and taxpayers. When research shows that employment reduces offending by 33-50%, it's in everyone’s interest to reduce the barriers to work for people with criminal convictions.

Young people: the hardest hit

But it’s the youngest people in our criminal justice system that are often hit the hardest by a tick-box approach to recruitment. Research we carried out in partnership with the City & Guilds Group in support of our Future Proof campaign shows that young people are already at a significant disadvantage in today’s labor market. The additional barrier of a criminal conviction means that young ex-offenders often find themselves at the bottom of the employment pool.

Yet, when given a chance, ex-offenders make excellent employees, often exceeding employer’s expectations. In fact, many of our Ban the Box employers report increased loyalty and commitment amongst their employees with a criminal record.

To help employers break down the recruitment barriers for young people with criminal convictions we launched a new resource last month to coincide with the third anniversary of the Ban the Box campaign. I’d urge responsible businesses to put these recommendations into practice. By doing so, you could make a vital intervention in the life of a young person who otherwise might have a very different future.

The City & Guilds Group is proud to be a Ban the Box employer. Find out how your business can Ban the Box too.

Nicola Inge

Nicola Inge is the Campaign Manager for the Employment for Excluded Groups Team at Business in the Community.